On Violence

Just a thought I had, watching video of the Occupy Wall Street protests – and accompanying police brutality – while also reading responses to the targeted killing of US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki:


These are connected.


I’ve lived in Oakland for two years now, and in nowhere else I’ve ever called home does police brutality have the presence it has here.  I’ve lived in many places but in Oakland, violence, crime, and authority are all intertwined in a knot that has ensnared even some of the fanciest neighborhoods – my brother moved recently to swanky Rockridge and discovered that one year ago, the Oakland PD shot somebody in the house next door.  It’s a distressing hobby for a police force to have and it’s been absorbed by the BART police, too, particularly shooters like Johannes Mehserle, who killed the unarmed, handcuffed Oscar Grant on New Year’s almost three years ago.


Anwar Al-Awlaki has never been charged by the US government with a crime.  He probably could have been, but he wasn’t; instead, he was assassinated (excuse me, “target killed”).


Whatever threat Johannes Mehserle perceived from Oscar Grant is nothing compared to what’s been leveled – with a great deal of evidence – against Al-Awlaki, who was pretty clearly engaging in high-level work for Al-Qaeda.  That’s not where the comparison is.  What’s troublesome is that in both cases, established procedures for justice were circumvented by those who already had the upper hand.  


Mehserle had a badge and a gun and Grant was in handcuffs; he could have been arrested on charges of drunk and disorderly and the matter settled.  And no matter what happened on 9/11, the United States is more powerful than Al-Qaeda and its operatives (by a lot).  Just as there were and are procedures for how Mehserle should have arrested Grant, there are procedures for how we might have dealt with Al-Awlaki, and when these procedures are executed well we commonly call it justice.


But sometimes, it seems, we’d rather just kill somebody.


Nobody’s been killed in the Wall Street protests.  But the fact that the president can secretly order the death of a US citizen, without any judicial recourse for the accused, is not entirely separate from the NYPD opening cans of pepper spray on people chanting behind barriers.  They say their use of force was “appropriate”, and so does the President; Mehserle couldn’t justify Grant’s death but his defense was that he was reaching for his Taser and grabbed his gun instead, that Tasing a man who was handcuffed and face-down on a BART platform was “appropriate.”


The Tea Party invents death panels to invoke the specter of the government power infringing on liberty and life, but we do not need such inventions, not when we have Grant, or Davis or Willingham, or even Al-Awlaki.  There is no fiction to such deadly intervention by the state, except that we should ever call it justice.

0 thoughts on “On Violence”

Leave a Reply